Coupon clippers have a new tool at their disposal: the computer.
Welcome to the era of point, click and save. With food and gas prices fluctuating, it's no surprise that food-industry watchers are predicting that coupon use will increase. And consumers are downloading a growing number of those coupons from the Internet.
"It's never been more applicable," says Brad Wilson, founder and editor in chief of BradsDeals.com. "The price of everything is going up."
Consumers paid almost 8 percent more for food and almost 32 percent more for gas in September than they did a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With the Web, coupon hunters can take charge of the search and seek out coupons for products they want, rather than having to make do with what appears in the paper every week.
"Personally, I buy a lot of organic food," says Lisa Lee Freeman, editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine. Her strategy: Go to favorite product manufacturers and download their coupons. She also hits Web sites for the stores themselves.
"It really makes sense for families to go look at all these sources," Freeman says.
Jamie Howard, a coupon clipper who lives in Georgia's Lake Oconee area, estimates that she saves about 30 percent per week with coupons, many of which she finds online. "They make it very easy," says Howard.
Some of her favorite sites are Coupons.com, CoolSavings.com and SmartSource.com.
Consumers also have more choices in online coupons now that more retailers and manufacturers are offering coupons online, Wilson says. "Everyone's in the game now," he says. "Everyone wasn't in the game a few years ago."
Steven Boal, founder and CEO of Coupons.com, estimates that consumers can shave $150 to $200 a month with online coupons. "That's a really important amount of money," he says.
But some stores refuse to take online coupons or cap the number that customers can use, while manufacturers often limit the number of coupons you can print for a certain item (often two). "Once you've maxed out, that's it," Boal says.
For their part, consumers usually must download and install special software from the sites to print the coupons.
1. Small but growing Many clippers and industry watchers agree that online coupons are still just a tiny slice of the coupon-clipping game.
Last year, online coupons made up only 0.4 percent of all the coupons distributed for packaged goods, according to Charles Brown, vice president of marketing for NCH Marketing Services in Deerfield, Ill., and co-chair of the Promotion Marketing Association's Coupon Council, an New York-based industry group. But that was an 80 percent increase over the previous year, he says.